Monday, November 26, 2007

the great debaters

He may play a tough New York crime lord in his latest flick American Gangster, but Denzel Washington is no pushover in real life either - especially when it comes to his kids.

"We've always said to our children - do what you've got to do, so you can do what you want to do, but it doesn't work the other way round," dad-of four Denzel told Oprah Winfrey on her show.

"They don't want to do their homework but you need to take care of business so you can do what you want to do," he said.

And the Oscar winner's next role in movie The Great Debaters, based on a true story, will serve as more of an inspiration to his kids with wife Pauletta.

In it, Denzel stars as Melvin B Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas.

In 1935, Mel inspired students to form the school's first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.

"The first time I read the script and got to the end, I got a little choked up," he said.

"I just thought it was a unique story I didn't know anything about."
Hamilton alumna who helped bring the Debate Society back to Hamilton in the late '90s has found a unique way to acknowledge its influence in her life. Sara Weinstein '02 and The Weinstein Company are underwriting an exclusive advance showing of The Great Debaters, a new film starring Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, for friends of Hamilton. The screening will take place on Monday, Dec. 10, at 6 p.m. at Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick St., New York, and will be followed by an after-party. All proceeds will benefit the oral communication program at Hamilton.

Presented by The Weinstein Company, The Great Debaters is inspired by a true story chronicling the journey of Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington), a brilliant but volatile debate team coach who uses the power of words to shape a group of underdog students from a small African-American college in the Deep South into an elite debate team. In its pursuit of excellence, Tolson's team receives a groundbreaking invitation to debate Harvard University's championship team.
Weinstein explained how the movie resonates with her experience at Hamilton.

"Although our story is not as dramatic, for me this movie is exactly about what I learned at Hamilton, both in debate and in the classroom," she said. "In The Great Debaters, Denzel Washington's character constantly tells his students to believe in the power of words. If I learned nothing else at Hamilton," Weinstein continued, "it's that words matter and the ability to deliver them clearly, effectively, and persuasively is critical."

As first-year students in the fall of 1998, Weinstein and her friend and classmate Joe Livingston founded the Hamilton Debate Society. Both had been members of their high school debate teams and were anxious to formally revive the tradition of debate at Hamilton. "As I learned from an earlier generation of Hamilton alums who were required to give public speeches in the Chapel, public speaking has always been central to Hamilton's curriculum," she said. "We were amazed by the support the school gave us in restarting the team from scratch," Weinstein commented. "Only at Hamilton could two students, less than a month into their freshman year, be given the encouragement and resources to do something like that."

Weinstein said that like the debate team in the film, Hamilton's team was somewhat of an underdog in the debating world when it first started competing. "Our competitors often had full-time coaches, traveling budgets, intense practice schedules and the reputation of victory," she recalled. "In the early days, we were relentless in entering every tournament, confident that the big schools would soon see us as a force if we consistently made respectable showings," Weinstein said. "By my senior year, we regularly took home top prizes and even hosted our own tournament."

Weinstein says her Hamilton Debate Society experience is essential to her job as director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships and Special Events with the New York City Department of Social Services. "There are plenty of smart people in the world, but unless you have the ability to articulate your thoughts and communicate them to others, your intelligence is useless," she said. "Working in government I also find it especially important to be able to quickly and critically examine proposals and ideas. Debate forced me to think quickly and not to be afraid to be critical," Weinstein explained, "whether it's an opponent standing five feet away or a co-worker in a meeting."

Since graduation Weinstein has followed the accomplishments of the debate team at Hamilton and was inspired to offer her support. "I read in a recent Alumni Review that Hamilton hosted a debate invitational," she recalled. "Seeing what a success it was, I thought this would be the perfect time to showcase this great movie in order to help Hamilton in its efforts to teach students the power of words."

The Great Debaters will be released by MGM on Dec. 25. The The Great Debaters
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This article or section contains information about one or more scheduled or expected films.
The content may change as the film's release approaches and more information becomes available.
The Great Debaters

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Denzel Washington
Produced by Oprah Winfrey
Denzel Washington
Joe Roth
Kate Forte
David Crockett
Todd Black
Molly Allen
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks
Robert Eisele
Starring Denzel Washington
Forest Whitaker
Denzel Whitaker
Kimberly Elise
Jurnee Smollett
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) December 25, 2007
Country United States
Language English
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile
The Great Debaters (2007) is an upcoming film produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions. It is directed by Denzel Washington who also stars in the film along with Forest Whitaker, [1], Kimberly Elise, Nate Parker, [2] and Jurnee Smollett. The screenplay is by Suzan-Lori Parks and Robert Eisele. [3] It will be released on December 25, 2007.

[edit] Plot summary
The film is based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, who, while at Wiley College formed a debate team that beat Harvard in 1935 during the national championships.

The soundtrack to the film contains remakes of traditional blues and gospel songs from the '20s and '30s by artists including Sharon Jones, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. [4]


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